The presents my wife has bagged and boxed for our kids and grandkids remind me of my childhood Decembers – filled with impatient longing for Christmas morning. And for the moment of unveiling as I’d enter the living room: there are my presents! And for that final barrier of paper removed. At last!
365 days wait a long wait. But it’s nothing compared to 70 years.
These days, my thoughts about Advent are framed by Isaiah 40. This is because of a centuries-old earworm called Handel’s Messiah that puts the well-known verses on a loop in my brain. (Interestingly, I discovered that the “lyrics” weren’t compiled by Handel, but by his frequent collaborator, a wealthy arts-supporter named Charles Jennens, who had a deep knowledge and love for Scripture.)
In Isaiah 40, God sends a promise of hope to his people in captivity in Babylon. After 70 years, their sins are forgiven and their time of return is coming. More than that, in this rescue they will see God revealed:
Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!” (Isaiah 40:9)
Handel’s melody gets higher step by step, as if climbing Mt. Zion, until the chorus dramatically thunders the last line: Behold your God!
And who is he? Verse 10 reveals a God of might, bringing his reward with him. The long wait has not diminished his power. He will move triumphantly and decisively to bless his people. When God bares his arm, watch out!
But amazingly, verse 11 follows with an astonishing twist:
He will tend his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
What a tender portrait! This omnipotent God, who later in the chapter is described as “marking the heavens with a span (of his hand),” to whom “the nations are like a drop from a bucket,” stoops to rescue the most vulnerable and lovingly carries them near his heart.
Fatherlike He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows.
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Praise Him! praise Him!
Widely as His mercy flows!
This is our God unwrapped, revealed in the deliverance of his people through the birth of his Son. No gift can ever compare.
Omnipotent, glorious God, we long to have you reveal your might and mercy in our lives every day. Help us to look with anticipation for your presence as much as we did for childhood presents. You are our delight, Lord Jesus!